I am a telecommunications professional working in ICT industry of Azerbaijan. Prior to joining my present field of occupation, I lived and work in the Western countries. Since 2001-2004, I have produced 7 documentaries on the recent turbulent history of the Caucasus.
”Man of Mountains”
It was winter. I was preparing for exams. Already I feared that by May I would be completely exhausted. Problems about trains approaching at different speeds, the number of oxygen and nitrogen molecules in nitrous oxide, the theorems of Thales and Pythagoras, the median bisector, sines and cosines – all these whirled around my head like hamsters in a wheel. I was tired and fed up of it all. There was one consolation – we were approaching the holy month of Ramadan, the month when the Holy Quran was revealed from on high.
This was our month of fasting. They say that in ancient times, when there were no clocks, people simply laid out lengths of white and black sewing thread. If they were able to distinguish the colours then it was too late to eat. It was believed that during this month the angels descend to earth. They say that heaven values good deeds committed during Ramadan a thousand times higher than at other times. Therefore the holy month was the time for making peace, forgiving offences, and throwing great feasts for relatives and neighbors. At the end of Ramadan we celebrated Uraza Bayram. On this day all who could tried to give alms – sadakat. As I was preparing for university in Moscow this year, my father decided to honor Allah by slaying the bull.
– Well, where is your animal, I have brought a butcher with me – a loud voice rang though the yard.
It was my mother’s brother Uncle Umar, the most jovial man in our village. My mother had four brothers, but my father was friends only with Umar. We used to say that Uncle Umar was a man ‘without brakes.’ that is he never paid any attention to what he said and about whom. A short man weighing about 130 kilos, Umar was notorious as the life and soul of the village; without him no celebration could take place. Everyone liked to discuss my uncle’s fantastic appetite and so he lifted people’s spirits wherever he went.
– Abdulaziz, where is your sacrificial animal? – my uncle repeated.
– Zaur, go and bring the bull out into the yard, – my father asked me.
Hurrying into the barn, I hesitated for a moment before the150 kilo beast. The bull was chewing something and swishing his tail. Sidling up to him, I stroked him tenderly for the last time. It was very sad that in a few minutes he would have his head cut off. Pulling his rope, I tried to bring him out into the yard. But the bull grew stubborn and refused to leave his stall. I do not know whether he had seen the strangers in the yard, or noticed the big butcher’s knife lying on a stone, but the animal stood stock still. I tugged again. Seeing that I could not manage, Uncle Umar and the butcher came to my rescue and forced the powerful bull into the yard.
I have heard it said a hundred times that animals do not understand when they are about to be killed, but something told me that our bull had guessed everything. He knew that his time was up and so he resisted with all his strength. He gave a piteous bellow.
– We’ll have to get him on his side – said the butcher.
– Right, – my uncle promptly ordered us to bend down and seize the bull by a hind leg. At the same time he grabbed the animal by the horns and wrenched his neck to the side. Not everyone has the strength to twist the neck of such a powerful animal. In the village there were only a few people who could bring down a bull; one of these was Uncle Umar.
After the bull was brought down we turned his head towards the Kabala. That was the custom – an animal sacrificed to Allah should look towards the Holy Land. The butcher ran the tip of his thumb along the knife blade a couple of times to check that it was well sharpened. Satisfied, he stroked the bull’s flank to calm it down. Then he grabbed its throat and began to recite a ritual prayer: “Bisimillah, Allahu Akbar” and then he pronounced my father’s name. This was also part of the ritual. As the butcher bent down to slit the bull’s throat, my uncle cried, – Wait! – The butcher raised his head.
– Zaur, run and fetch a glass from the house, – said my uncle.
I dashed into the house without taking off my shoes, grabbed a glass from the kitchen and returned. My uncle went to the animal and placed the glass directly beneath its throat.
– Now cut! – he ordered, and the butcher made three sharp movements across the bull’s throat. Blood gushed forth. Uncle Umar’s eyes glowed as he watched his cup fill with thick warm blood. Once the cup was full he snatched it up and gulped down the contents. He stroked his pot belly and grunted. To me this was excessive and incomprehensible. It was the first time I had seen him drink the blood of an animal. Among our people this was simply not done.
Then I forgot about my uncle. The poor bull was writhing in its death agony. Thick steam escaping from its lungs poured out of its throat along with the blood. Gradually the animal’s resistance weakened. The butcher placed his foot on the bull’s neck and pressed down to make the blood flow out faster. Each time he pressed there was an eerie rasp and a fresh gush of blood mixed with warm air from the lungs pumped out of the animal’s body. After about ten minutes the bull gave its final wheeze. The butcher waited a few minutes to make sure that all the blood had drained from the bull’s body. It had to drain to the last drop, otherwise the meat is considered haram – unfit for consumption.
I have heard it said a hundred times that when an animal is slaughtered with a well-sharpened knife it does not suffer. But now, looking at the bull, I was once again convinced that animals experience terrible suffering, and all the stories to the contrary struck me as nonsense.
– When you have flayed the carcass, divide it into three equal parts, – my father ordered the butcher.
The first part was intended for relatives, the second, for neighbours, and only a third would be left for the family itself. To hold a feast when neighbours and relatives cannot afford one is considered a great sin.
I was preparing to leave the yard when I heard Uncle Umar laugh again. This time he was preparing to eat the animal’s brains. They are considered a great delicacy. Umar first charred the bull’s head on a fire, then he put it in a cauldron and began to circle the fire, waiting for the head to cook. After a few minutes, my uncle dug out one of the eyes with a large knife and swallowed it.
– Eat! Be a man – he offered me the second eye.
The severed eye looked so dreadful that I flinched, drew back and almost lost my balance. Pieces of flesh dangled from it – perhaps nerves and blood vessels. The eye gazed at me balefully, as though begging me not to touch it.
Seeing the horror on my face, Uncle Umar swallowed the eye straight down. He stroked his stomach with his habitual gesture of sated gluttony. If you believe our aksakals, one of the properties of the brain and eyes of a bull was to increase male potency. But I did not care. In order not to suffer from any more of my uncle’s antics I ran off to help my father.
 Eid ul Fitr is known as Uraza Bayram in the countries of the former USSR
 Aksakal literally means “white beard”, and refers to the male elders, the old and wise of the community. Traditionally an aksakal was the leader of a village. Acting as advisors or judges, these elders had a role in politics and the justice system in countries and tribes throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus.